I think that this is the longest stretch of time that we have been home in several years, thanks to COVID. For the foreseeable future, we will continue to be at home since most of the world is not too interested in having any American visitors! With nothing but time on my hands, I thought I would update my blog from my last posting in March.
We were extremely fortunate to get seats on a flight from Cape Town to Qatar. The flight was completely booked. Clayton and I were not able to sit together on this leg of our return flights home. I was seated on the aisle (my favorite location) next to a very friendly Finnish couple. The husband was very polite towards his wife for the entire flight – rather than cough on her, he turned towards me to cough. Repeatedly. For ten hours straight. After being protected from COVID for nearly 3 weeks due to being stuck on the ship, I wasn’t too thrilled to be seated next to a guy with one of the primary symptoms that continued to “share” his germs with me. But there were no other options since the flight was completely packed full. Despite the coughing Finn, the flight was pleasant. Qatar Airways has an incredibly positive reputation and lived up to it. We were well fed and taken care of.
We landed in Doha, Qatar and rapidly passed through immigration and on to our boarding gate. The airport was beautiful. There were plenty of upscale shops for those inclined towards spending money whilst waiting for their flight, but we just wanted to get to our next gate. It was hard to keep track of time zones, but we had left South Africa in the evening and flown for ten hours, so it was probably (very) early in the morning. Our carry-on items were screened one more time before being allowed into the seating area. We had a short wait before boarding and were pleased to find that the flight to Boston was only about half full. Clayton and I had an empty seat between us (the good news) but were seated right by the restroom (the bad news). The flight was smooth and the service and food once again top notch. We arrived in Boston late in the afternoon.
We had hoped to be able to visit the Global Entry office when we deplaned. Both of our renewals for Global Entry had been conditionally approved but required a face-to-face interview. Global Entry allows walk-in interviews for those arriving on International flights. Unfortunately for us, the office was closed. It has been months now, but I still remember how eerie the airport was because it was almost completely empty of people. There were a couple of take-out places open, but sit-down restaurants were closed. The lounge was open but only as a place to sit, no food or refreshments. We ended up getting sandwiches for the flight to Seattle because we knew that food was not included on a domestic flight. We had a few hours to kill so walked around the deserted concourse, looking at all the cancelled flights on the arrival/departure boards. Boarding our flight was a breeze given that there were only about 8 other passengers! The flight attendants tried to separate Clayton and I – they were putting a couple of rows between each passenger. We explained that we were married and so were allowed to sit together, though they moved us back a few rows since we were supposed to be seated at the front of the cabin. The flight attendants were using that area to sit and didn’t want any passengers to be seated anywhere near them.
We were given a small botte of water and a granola bar immediately after take-off. That was the one and only interaction with the flight attendants for the entire 6-hour flight! I slept most of the flight; we had been flying for well over a day by now and I was quite exhausted. I don’t remember much about our arrival in Seattle; there were a few more people than in Boston but the airport was nonetheless pretty empty. We took a cab home and collapsed!
We came home to an entirely different world than when we left. Though we were not under a strict quarantine, our entire state was under a “stay at home” order. We could leave home for groceries and emergency medical care; that was it. We had to restock our pantry after having been gone for months, so our first few days were spent shopping. At that point, masks were recommended but not required. We didn’t have masks, so were careful to stay at least 6 feet away from others. It felt very odd to have to keep distance from people! And, it felt scary. Our area was the epicenter of the outbreak in the US so every interaction with others felt risky. We are both in our 60’s and I have underlying medical conditions that make me a “high-risk” person. We didn’t dare visit family or friends; we took the stay at home order very seriously.
I remember being especially exhausted those first couple of weeks but attributed it to jet lag. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Two weeks after returning home, I woke up in the middle of the night extremely nauseated and with chills. I was sick enough that Clayton took me to the emergency room. We were given masks upon admission and due to my heart problems, taken in immediately. It’s a heck of a reason to go to the front of the line, but that’s the way it is! After hearing about our recent travels, the doctor was quite sure I had COVID. I was given a COVID test as well as a battery of other tests, including a chest x-ray. I had IV fluids pumped into me and kept drifting off to sleep whilst waiting for the test results. It turns out that I had pneumonia. I thought that was exceedingly odd since I did not have a cough, nor had I had a cough recently. Of course, I had been exposed to a cough. After 6 hours, I was finally released with a bag full of medication and instructions to quarantine for two weeks and for Clayton to sleep in a separate room and use a separate bathroom. My COVID test would take a day or two to be processed, but they were quite sure I had it. If I had any trouble breathing, I was to return to the hospital immediately.
The next couple of weeks were a blur. What I remember most is the complete and total lack of energy I had. I had no desire to eat, though made myself take in a little food every day. It felt as if something heavy had been placed on my chest. It didn’t really hurt to breathe, but it was a huge effort. My heart rate was extremely high, perhaps due to the extra energy it seemed to take to inhale. Fortunately, my COVID test was negative. I had bacterial pneumonia rather than viral. Eventually, I started to feel like my old self again. By now, masks were required, so I got out my sewing machine and sewed a few for us. Unlike other parts of the country (and other parts of our state), virtually everyone where we live wear masks. I greatly appreciate this. I was sick enough with pneumonia; I have no desire to risk getting COVID.
So now, life is back to normal. At least as normal as it will be for quite some time. I love the senior shopping hours and hope they continue for the duration. I miss my children terribly. My daughter had a baby in December, right before we left for our trip. I was supposed to visit my new grandson in April, but that trip had to be cancelled (she lives all the way across the country). I miss attending church in person, and especially miss singing in the choir. Singing is a super-spreader event, so even when worship services return, we will not be singing. And, of course, I miss travel. Normally, between trips, I spend my days researching and planning future trips. Who knows when we will be able to travel again? I definitely have too much time on my hands.
We had purchased a 2-month Eurail pass for a trip around Europe in August and September. That obviously is cancelled. We were able to get a partial refund on the pass and were able to cancel all our hotel reservations at no cost to us. Just this past week, our flights got cancelled by the airline and so we were able to get a full refund. There were a few places we opted to fly between due to distance, and flights within Europe are still running, so we won’t be able to recoup any of those costs. Travel insurance doesn’t really help during a pandemic unless you have cancel for any reason insurance (we don’t). But, the cost of those flights is small in the grand scheme of things!
We had an amazing conglomeration of travel planned for the winter. At this point, it is unclear how much (if any) of the trip will happen. The plan was to fly to Kuala Lumpur for a couple of weeks in early November. From there, we would head to Thailand for a month. Then, on to India for a 2-week planes/trains/automobiles/camels trip before boarding a cruise from Mumbai to Yangon, Myanmar. After arriving in Myanmar, we were going to take a boat trip from Mandalay to Bhamo and then fly back to Thailand. From Thailand, we would fly to Australia for a 2-week cruise to New Zealand followed by a train trip around southern/eastern Australia. Finally, we would return to Thailand after stopping in Bali on the way.
What definitely will not happen: anything in India (no land trip, no cruise) and no cruise to New Zealand. After our last cruising experience, we are not too excited about taking another cruise. Realistically, even if we were, I doubt Australia and/or New Zealand will be allowing Americans into their country any time soon. We would love to return to Thailand as well as do the 5-day boat trip from Mandalay to Bhamo in Myanmar, but that will depend on whether either of those countries will allow us in. It all will depend on what happens with coronavirus between now and then.
Until life returns to normal (not holding my breath that will be anytime soon), we will not be traveling. So, no updates to the blog for quite some time! I hope that wherever in the world you are, that you are healthy and that COVID has not affected you. Drop me a note and let me know what’s going on in your part of the world!